Penal Code 169 PC | Picketing Outside Courthouse

Picketing Outside Courthouse: Understanding California Penal Code 169 PC

In California, the right to free speech and assembly is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, there are some limitations on these rights, especially when it comes to picketing or protesting near a courthouse. Penal Code 169 PC specifically makes it illegal to picket near a courthouse in order to obstruct justice or influence court participants.

This law seems pretty straightforward at first glance, but there are some nuances to be aware of. In this article, we’ll break down the key aspects of Penal Code 169 PC so you understand what’s allowed and what could potentially get you into legal trouble.

What Does California Penal Code 169 PC Prohibit?

Let’s start by looking at what the law actually says. Penal Code 169 PC states:

Any person who pickets or parades in or near a building which houses a court of this state with the intent to interfere with, obstruct, or impede the administration of justice or with the intent to influence any judge, juror, witness, or officer of the court in the discharge of his duty is guilty of a misdemeanor.

So in plain English, this law makes it illegal to:

  • Picket or parade near a California courthouse
  • With the intent to either:
    • Obstruct or interfere with court operations
    • Influence a judge, juror, witness, or court officer in carrying out their duties

Some examples of illegal picketing under PC 169 could include:

  • Picketing near a courthouse during an active trial to try and sway the jury’s opinion
  • Protesting outside a courthouse to pressure a judge to rule a certain way
  • Parading near a courthouse to intimidate witnesses from testifying

This law applies to any building housing a California state court, including superior courts, appellate courts, and the state Supreme Court. It does not apply to federal courthouses.

What Are the Penalties?

A violation of Penal Code 169 PC is a misdemeanor offense. Potential penalties include:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000
  • Informal probation

In some cases, the judge may allow a fine to be paid instead of jail time. But the judge also has discretion to impose the maximum 6 month jail sentence.

What Qualifies as Picketing Under This Law?

Not all gatherings or demonstrations outside a courthouse automatically violate PC 169. The key issues are location and intent.

Location: The picketing or parading must occur “in or near” the courthouse. There is no fixed distance defined in the law. But being right on the courthouse steps would clearly qualify. Even being across the street could potentially violate the law if the intent element is also met.

Intent: For a PC 169 violation, the picketing must be done with intent to either obstruct court operations or influence judges, jurors, witnesses or court officers. Peacefully picketing as an exercise of free speech, by itself, does not violate this law.

When Does Picketing Cross the Line Into a Crime?

Given the free speech protections, when does picketing outside a courthouse cross into illegal territory? Here are some examples of activities that could lead to charges under PC 169:

  • Picketers blocking courthouse entrances or exits
  • Attempting to physically prevent court participants from entering or leaving the courthouse
  • Picketing in a way that actively disrupts court proceedings, such as making noise loud enough to be heard inside courtrooms
  • Carrying signs or chanting slogans that pressure judges or jurors to make certain rulings
  • Gathering outside a courthouse in a threatening manner to intimidate witnesses

On the other hand, some examples of lawful picketing that would be protected include:

  • Picketing peacefully on courthouse steps or sidewalks without obstructing entrances
  • Carrying signs with general political messages not specifically directed at a particular trial
  • A candlelight vigil quietly expressing opinions without disrupting court functions

There is sometimes a fine line between lawful assembly and illegal picketing under Penal Code 169 PC. Experienced criminal defense lawyers can help evaluate the evidence in your case.

Are There Legal Defenses?

There are several legal defenses that a criminal defense attorney may use to contest Penal Code 169 charges, such as:

  • Lack of intent: The prosecution must prove you intended to obstruct justice or influence the court. If your actions were innocuous, this defense may apply.
  • First Amendment protections: Peaceful, lawful picketing is generally protected speech. Your lawyer may argue the activity was legal.
  • Unlawful arrest: If your arrest violated required procedures, evidence may be suppressed.

An experienced lawyer can evaluate the facts of your case and decide on the best defense strategy.

Recent Cases Involving Penal Code 169 PC

Here are some recent real-world examples of charges under PC 169:

  • Abortion rights activists charged for protesting near homes of Supreme Court justices during deliberations on abortion case.
  • Man charged for offering judge $5,000 cash bribe to dismiss his case.
  • Protests near courthouse during high-profile murder trial, leading to charges.

Get Expert Help Fighting Penal Code 169 PC Charges

Facing criminal charges for picketing near a courthouse can derail your life. The help of an experienced California criminal defense attorney can make all the difference in how your case turns out. A knowledgeable lawyer will thoroughly examine the evidence against you and build the strongest defense to have your charges reduced or dismissed.

Don’t leave your fate to chance. The respected attorneys at [Law Firm Name] have helped many clients fight back against Penal Code 169 PC charges. We offer a free case evaluation so you can discuss your case and legal options at no cost. Call us today to schedule an appointment and get expert legal guidance.